In the Shooting Range: Newbie Filmmaker Gets Some Pointers

Posted on: Thursday, July 19 2012

By Katherine Saviskas, Independent Media Intern

Two months ago I took a field trip to a South Bay shooting range, where I learned to use a shotgun.  (Pick the reason you like best: I’m a carnivore and ought to be able to hunt my own meals.  It’s 2012.  I want to be prepared for the zombie invasion.)

My main take-away from the experience was: there has to be a better way to learn to shoot than by shooting moving targets.  Reason being, while I knew I was failing to hit the flying clay disks, I didn’t know by how much.

I can’t help but make the leap to my experiences of learning to shoot video.  I’d like to declare the video camera (and maybe even a DSLR) the conceptual opposite of a shotgun.  Still, when learning to be a filmmaker, I want to have an idea of what I’m aiming for and how close I am to the target.

Thankfully, a few of BAVC’s 2012 MediaMaker Fellows let me interrogate them.   I asked the MediaMaker Fellows to share what characteristics good documentary filmmakers ought to have. Here is what they said:

1. You need to be curious, tenacious and multi-faceted.
As MediaMaker Fellow Nancy Kates explained, “You have to get interested in something and be willing to take it as far as it can go and be a little relentless about investigating that story or investigating that issue or topic or problem.”  I like these three characteristics together.  Total powerhouse.

2. You need to be interested in educating people.  
It’s not just about enjoying the medium, in documentary filmmaking you need a commitment to educating people.  Some documentary makers may have a different purpose – to entertain, to provoke – but for most of the fellows I spoke with, this seemed to ring true.

3. You need to enjoy working with people.  
Documentary filmmaking involves lots of social interaction: with your team, with those you interview and with those who assist your research.  “You meet new people in new worlds,” highlighted MediaMaker Fellow Nancy Kelly.  

4. You need to be ready to work really hard.
“In this industry, you have to work really hard.  You have to be ready to work long hours,” explained MediaMaker Fellow Kristi Adams, quickly adding, “Not dangerously long, but long.”  The lazy documentary filmmaker gets nowhere.

5. No particular background is required; it’s best to be a “generalist” and follow your curiosities and interests.  
Each of the MediaMaker Fellows I met with shared their own path to filmmaking, and each was wonderfully unique.  “It would be wise to understand that there is no one way in,” said Nancy Kelly.  Good to know up front.  I won’t try to improve my résumé before shooting some footage.

6. You need to like both the technical and the creative.  
Kristi Adams pointed out that she’s always really been into the gear of filmmaking, “I’m into the technical as well as the creative.”  Similarly, Nancy Kelly shared she was drawn to filmmaking because “it wasn’t just art, but it had light meters and things.  It also involved physicality, which is always important to me.”  Nothing quite like clapping a clap-stick.

7. You need to like constantly exploring the world and trying new things.
Living in the realm of documentary filmmaking allows you to exist “somewhere where the choices aren’t so narrow,” said Nancy Kelly, who changed her major twenty-three times in college.

8.  You need to like learning new skills.
You often find that you have to be your own teacher, and enjoy deciding what directions you want to grow toward.  Also, you get to determine your own standards of success.